Not a single U.S. senator objected to an appropriation dubbed the “Kentucky kickback” included in legislation passed Wednesday to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling to avoid default, a senior Republican Senate aide told TheBlaze.
“Every single member of the Senate reviewed the list of appropriations and consented to have the vote,” the aide said.
The bill, which was negotiated between Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), contains several appropriations, including a more than $2.9 billion increase to the existing budget authority for the Olmsted Locks and Dam project, which is located on the Ohio River and would affect parts of Illinois, Tennessee and Kentucky.
The project has been under construction for nearly 20 years.
Senators had most of Wednesday to review the bill and the list of appropriations, the aide told TheBlaze, who said senators were given every opportunity to raise their concerns.
In fact, the aide said, the Senate vote was delayed so senators could have a chance to review the bill.
“This list [of appropriations] was given out for all members to review,” the aide said. “So if there was something in there they had concerns about, they could call the Appropriations Committee or the (Office of Management and Budget) and ask them what it was and why it was necessary.”
“Members did that. Members read the bill. Members read the list, they raised questions about some of those things and some changes were made,” he said, adding that this is how it’s done for virtually every major bill. “Once everybody was satisfied with their review, we did call of the vote, asked for unanimous consent, everyone gave their consent and we had the vote.”
The Senate Conservatives Fund was quick to jump on McConnell for having “secured” the “kickback” for his home state in the 11th-hour deal.
“In exchange for funding Obamacare and raising the debt limit, Mitch McConnell secured a $2 billion Kentucky kickback,” Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a blog post. “This is an insult to Kentucky families who don’t want to pay for Obamacare and who don’t want to shoulder any more debt.”
“Mitch McConnell is trying to blame others for this abuse, but everyone knows he negotiated this deal and everyone knows he wrote the bill. If he didn’t want the earmark included, he could have kept it out,” the post said.
The group’s allegations quickly spread on social media and were soon picked up by numerous media outlets. In actuality, the nearly $3 billion provision does not appropriate any money. Rather, it increases the existing budget authority for Olmsted, a massive project that benefits several states. It’s not some new “boondoggle” dreamt up by McConnell; federal dollars have long been set aside for this project.
Second, McConnell did not request the increase in funding. The request came directly from the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the Olmsted project, and the White House.
The request came to the Senate Appropriations Committee via the Office of Management and Budget, which falls under the executive branch of the U.S. government. And that’s generally how this works: The Office of Management and Budget makes a request and the Appropriations Committee determines if it can be carried out.
McConnell has supported the Olmsted project, which is economically important to the areas it affects, but he did not request that the nearly $3 billion appropriation be included in Wednesday’s Senate deal and he did not author it. The language was specifically written and inserted into the bill by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), both of whom are members of the office responsible for appropriations.
“Senator Feinstein and I, as chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, requested this provision. It has already been approved this year by the House and Senate,” Alexander said in a statement to Time.
Additionally, had the Senate failed to approve the Olmsted provision, it could have led to a net loss of about $160 million for taxpayers because of cancelled contracts, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The facts regarding the Olmsted provision have come to light since the Kentucky senator was first accused of having “secured” the so-called “kickback.” Nevertheless, some continue to doubt McConnell’s character, saying that his knowledge of the appropriation raises serious questions about his trustworthiness.
But, again, everyone knew about the provision when they agreed to move the bill forward, according to the aide.
True, 18 Republican senators are indeed on record voting against the Senate shutdown bill, but they knew as much about the Olmsted provision as McConnell did when they agreed to move the bill to a vote.
Either senators knew about the appropriations and said nothing, or they didn’t read the bill. As of this writing, no other conservative senators have been targeted for their knowledge of the appropriation.
The Senate bill passed by a vote 81-18. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) did not vote.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter
This post has been updated.